His name was Alan Ladd Jr., but the boy never got burned by the limelight. “In the old studio system,” recalls Alan, now 37, “it wasn’t acceptable for stars to have children my age.” Later on, as Alan Sr. advanced from Hollywood’s top gunman to character parts (and then died in 1964), Alan Jr.’s younger half siblings, Alana and David, enjoyed minor screen careers. All that “Laddie” (as junior was dubbed) did was a little bruising stunt work and then seemingly disappeared. Or did he? While the other sibs have faded from the business, Laddie suddenly this winter leaped to the top as production chief of 20th Century-Fox.
Though the only survivor of a tetrarchy that had previously ruled Fox, Ladd is no corporate triggerman but rather a shy, low-profile executive (albeit he is over half a foot taller than his 5’3″ father). Anything but the Central Casting mogul, he lacks both the glamour of Bob Evans and the brazenness of the deposed Frank Yablans, the two tigers who made Paramount the most powerful studio of the 1970s. And as for any charges of nepotism, that’s a bum rap. As a boy, Laddie grew up with his mother, a nonpro. Only at 13 did he go to live with his famous father and second wife, Sue Carol, an early sound-musical star who later became a major agent propelling her husband and newcomers like Julie London. Ladd Jr.’s reticence about his boyhood seems to indicate that these may have been uneasy years. Summers, Alan Jr. pumped gas, carried groceries and newspapers, but “always knew I’d do something in films.” In 1959 he dropped out of USC his senior year after meeting his wife, Patty, a dental hygienist who occasionally still works. Then after seven years as an actors’ agent, he became a film executive in England and with associates produced bombs like Elizabeth Taylor’s X, Y & Zee. On a business trip back to the States in 1973, Ladd was recruited by Fox. Patty says, “He came back because he missed the pro football games.” After several seesawing years, Fox is riding high with The Towering Inferno and Young Frankenstein, both of which reflect Ladd’s own taste for “entertainment films,” as opposed to “downbeat message films.” As Alan Ladd Jr. reminds, Betty Grable’s musicals (and his dad’s type of movies) brought in a lot more money than The Grapes of Wrath.